It is often highlighted that Japan has had its share of great and noble warriors who have personified the meaning of honor and respect like Toyotomi Hideyoshi and alike. What isn’t a common topic is the fact that Japan has seen some of the most cunning villain-like characters throughout their history too. You can think of it as every Batman have their equivalent Joker. There are sure many candidates that can join this list of “villains” during the wartime of Japan but it unlikely for you to find someone as crafty as Matsunaga Hisahide.
The Origin of Matsunaga Hisahide and His Rise to Power
Matsunaga Hisahide was born in the year of 1508. He lived through the Sengoku period and by the time of the 16th century, he had already become a daimyo of Japan. It isn’t unusual to hear that a person reached the status of daimyo because there were a lot of men who became daimyos throughout the history of Japan. In a span of a year during those times, a daimyo or feudal lord of a certain area or region may change more than once or twice depending on the events so you can be sure that the rise to the position of daimyo was pretty common if you were in the right place at the right time. Despite this fact, you should still differentiate Matsunaga Hisahide from the rest because this man had the morals of a human being you could despise.
He had been a close friend to Miyoshi Chokei since their childhood but aside from this fact, he was practically invisible. He gained some attention on in 1549 when he helped Chokei, who was also known by many as Miyoshi Nagayoshi, in defeating his uncle, Miyoshi Masanaga. He also acted as Nagayoshi’s spokesman in the city of Kyoto during this time and it was vital in controlling the political aspect of things as he made his moves. In a way, you could have described him to be the "Robin" to Miyoshi Chokei's "Batman" during that phase of their lives.
Since he was someone that Miyoshi Chokei knew from his childhood, he obviously had a sense of trust in Hisahide. This made it easy for Chokei to appoint Hisahide into positions like Miyoshi’s governor of the capital, in which he was tasked to stay close to the shogun at the time who was Ashikaga Yoshiteru. Hisahide would eventually be tasked to go on a conquest to the Yamato province. This task was the most important one that was given to him because it was the task that made it possible for him to gain enough power and influence to stand alone and become an independent daimyo which happened in the year of 1564.
On the surface, it seems like he could have been the “Alfred” to Chokei’s “Bruce Wayne” but unknown to many at the time, Hisahide was scheming a plan to undermine his former masters in the years prior to his ascension to an independent daimyo. There was no concrete proof of his involvement in the events that followed but his access to those who died and the rumors that were documented about how he was actually the one responsible for the consecutive deaths of Chokei’s siblings and heir really put him in the spotlight as the prime suspect. There were too many details and coincidences that pinpointed him as the perpetrator of the crimes but, luckily, he was never put punished for them nor was he ever put to trial for the crimes he was suspected to commit.
Kazunari died in the year of 1561 while Jikkyu died in the year of 1562. Both their deaths were labeled as mysterious. As for Atagi Fuyuyasu, she was murdered in the year of 1564. Lastly, the heir of Chokei died an unnatural death in the year of 1563. There are theories that state that Hisahide actually poisoned Yoshioki and that he also framed Atagi so that Chokei would be tricked into having him killed. Regardless of these conspiracies though, these events ultimately forced Chokei’s hand in naming his adopted son, Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, the heir to his throne.
There are some who think that he orchestrated the whole thing because he knew that if Yoshitsugu would become the heir, the sudden death of Chokei would leave the next heir too young to rule and that there would have to be some sort of “triumvirate” to take on the duties of being the leader while the heir is still unable to. Strangely enough, this is exactly how it went down and those appointed to be the heir's guardians were Miyoshi Nagayuki, Miyoshi Masayasu, and Iwanari Tomomichi.
Hisahide and the guardian trio acted as one with all the big decisions that followed after their appointment to their positions. They ended up getting rid of Shogan Yoshiteru because he had tried to free himself from the control of the Miyoshi clan. This obviously didn’t sit well with Hisahide and the Miyoshi so they sent troops to fix the problem. After they got rid of Yoshiaki and the other Ashikaga members, it would be Hisahide and the Miyoshi who would then go at each other.
How Matsunaga Hisahide Used Oda Nobunaga
It was in this war with the Miyoshi that Matsunaga set the Great Buddha Hall of the Todaiji in Nara on fire. This happened after several fights that went back and forth but as the battles moved inland, it was inevitable that something important got destroyed. Unfortunately for Hisahide, what he destroyed was too significant to the Japanese and this is what gave him the reputation of being a villain in Japanese history.
Hisahide’s battles with the Miyoshi started in the year of 1566. The forces of Hisahide and Hisahide himself were easily defeated by the Miyoshi during their first encounter outside of Sakai. This streak of defeat would continue for Hisahide as his efforts to weaken the Miyoshi forces in Kwatchi were immediately grounded by the defenses of the Miyoshi. Being the sly guy that he was, instead of dying, he chose to make a truce with the Miyoshi and this arrangement had him and his troops flee the Sakai area.
Two years after that, Hisahide found himself at the feet of Oda Nobunaga as Nobunaga marched into Kyoto in the year of 1568. He immediately surrendered to Nobunaga because he knew that he had no chance against the strength of his army. Since he immediately submitted, Oda Nobunaga let him feel his land in the Yamato region. Oda Nobunaga was not a man with mercy so he must’ve seen Hisahide as someone he could use against the Miyoshi and in his intention to expand his influence into the Yamato region. HIsahide was also able to get on the better side of Nobunaga through a particular tea item that he gave as a gift to Nobunaga. They are both enthusiasts of the tea ceremony so they both appreciate though unique items.
Matsunaga Hisahide knew what Oda Nobunaga could offer him in exchange for his quality services so he gave him his all. He contributed tremendously over the following years by serving Nobunaga in his battles against the Azai and Asakura clans as well as the Miyoshi. He could have just been loyal to Nobunaga and stayed safe from harm but his nature as a sly guy was something he couldn’t shake off so, in the year of 1573, he conspired with Miyoshi Yoshitsugu to take out Oda Nobunaga.
This cooperation didn’t last long because soon after the plotting, Hisahide would rejoin the forces of Oda Nobunaga as he fought their enemies like the Miyoshi clan. A couple of years later, he betrays Oda Nobunaga by rebelling as he and his son, Hisamichi, left their positions at Honganji returned to Yamato. Hisahide was hoping that the other daimyo of the Yamato region would back him up but this wasn’t how it happened as he was trapped by Tsutsui and Oda Nobutada in the Shigi Castle soon after his betrayal. Oda went to Hisahide to take his head as well as another precious tea item that the Oda wanted. Hisahide, planning ahead of time, found a way to deny the Oda these things by asking his son to take his head so that it could not be displayed in public and by breaking the item that he knew the Oda were coming for.
How Matsunaga Hisahide is depicted in Anime and in Video Games
Since the events of the Sengoku period and other times of war in Japan were filled with dramatic storylines and plot twists, it became a great baseline for anime series and video games. The anime called Nobunaga Concerto wherein a boy named Saburo gets lost in the Sengoku period should be enough to prove to you that this period is utilized in such artwork. Along with the setting, these creations also made use of the characters and personalities of that time as well. Heroes from the Sanada clan as well as the other great warriors like Akechi Mitsuhide and Maeda Keiji were used to spice up the story of the series or video game and it was very educational because their depictions were, more often than not, accurate to reality.
In the case of Matsunaga Hisahide, his character was utilized more in the gaming industry as he made appearances in the game series like Samurai Warrior, Nobunaga’s Ambition or Nobunaga no Yabou, and the Sengoku BASARA series. In these games, you will see a Matsunaga Hisahide that is depicted as tall and handsome. Some characters in these games used blockers or shields to defend their front in these games but Hisahide’s weapons choices are similar all throughout these games in which he made use of a sword and gunpowder as his go-to weapons. It would also be useful to know that Hisahide wasn’t depicted as bad as he actually was in real life which is why some kids might have even looked up to him judging from how he was depicted and introduced in the games they played when they were kids.
Because of all the things that Hisahide did in his life, it isn’t surprising to find out that his name was closely associated with being a villain in their history. His constant switching of sides and attempts to make use of people’s positions to his advantage along with his tendencies to act immorally made it easy to label him as such and he really did live up to that reputation until the very end. Some of you might even think that it isn’t worth the time to give this guy attention or to discuss this guy’s life but on the contrary, he does give everybody a concrete example of how not to act and live your life.